In 2015 we will commemorate the end of the Second World War. We will be invited to attend the ceremonies or watch on TV as the lines of be-medalled people march by. The authorities will organise them, and millions of dollars have been allocated to be spent on the commemoration in its various forms. It will happen. We need not plan anything. Some of us are more involved than others because of family connections to the fallen. After similar attention having been paid in 2014 to the end of World War I, we again will commemorate war and history, this time with many of us old enough to remember. In addition, at least five countries in Europe will commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, longer ago but also considered an important historical event.

In 2016 there may not be huge international events like this planned and government may take a break from considerable commemorative investment, or commemorate the various bloody battles of WWI individually until 2018 also.

In 2016 it will be 400 years since one Dirk Hartog chanced upon our west coast. Nobody was there to see it. Nobody died. Will therefore nobody care? It was one of those events that changed the vague European perception of the possible existence of a hypothetical southern land to an inkling that it really existed. Sixteenth century maps had shown a fabulous land called Beach, pronounced ”Be-ak”, in approximately the location where Hartog charted some 400 km of coastline.

So was this land indeed a continent and if so how big? Hartog’s chart was hard evidence and triggered a long sequence of visits, including deliberate voyages of exploration, until 200 years later it was finally clear where the coastline actually lay, and hence the extent of Australia, as it was eventually called, was revealed.

After Hartog, the rest was merely waiting to happen: the unfolding of a continent. The land shown on Janszoon’s chart of 1606 was then still regarded as merely an extension of New Guinea, so there was not the same excitement about a continent having been found.

In 2016 we should commemorate Hartog’s discovery. It was an important moment in the history of Australia, and we who are aware of it can create something which will stimulate wider awareness and enrich the community’s understanding of Australia’s history. We are all members of various organisations or bodies. I suggest that you raise your voice to propose that in 2016 your club, body, institute, department, school etc. create an event to pay some attention to Dirk Hartog’s visit. It could be planting a tree (with or without plaque or time capsule) lecture, a music event even a barbecue―ideas aplenty!

The commemoration could happen in the form of many small and medium-sized events around the nation, without marches or medals, with media coverage perhaps only in local papers. When the question is put: WHY? Some of the following facts may help you make your point at your next meeting.

The Significance of Dirk Hartog’s 1616 Visit to Australia is still there in the year 2016

On 25 October 1616 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Eendracht, skippered by Dirk Hartog, encountered the west coast of Australia. Anchoring near what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island, they stayed for two days. Before leaving, a pewter plate recording the visit was attached to a post on Dirk Hartog Island. As they sailed north they charted 400 km of the coast.

  • This is the first known European contact with the west coast of Australia.
  • The visit by Hartog and his crew was only the second time outsiders are thought to have made contact with Australia according to contemporary documentation.

The first contact was in early 1606, a result of the voyage of the VOC ship Duyfken, skippered by Janszoon along the western shore of Cape York Peninsula.

  • By erecting the pewter plate as a postal message for other mariners who might land at this shore after him, Hartog recognised he had made a significant discovery in terms of European exploration.
  • His recording of land there, taken together with Janszoon’s charting of the Cape York coast, also first raised the possibility that this land was of significant extent, perhaps a continent.

The plate that Hartog left behind still exists, it was replaced by another VOC expedition led by Willem de Vlamingh in 1697 and the original now resides in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

  • The Hartog plate is a tangible link to our past.
  • It is in fact the oldest relic in existence relating to early visits and contact by outsiders with Australia and the indigenous Australians.
  • It is the oldest locally written/inscribed document in our history.
  • Many Australians instantly recognize a depiction of Hartog’s plate.
  • It is a true icon of Australian history

Hartog’s voyage of 1616 is therefore worth commemorating nationally as a defining event in Australian history, as well as being of considerable importance to the history of the Netherlands. Therefore it is worth organising – also locally – something to acknowledge the 400th anniversary of this defining visit. You could form a team for it and start now.

Peter Reynders

Secretary ”Australia on the Map”, a division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society